We’re not just talking about the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point (although 11 battles stars and a Presidential Unit Citation is nothing to shake a stick at). The entire history of Charleston, South Carolina, has been full-blown ‘Merica from Day One: independence, freedom, and local pride.
One of the first things the founders of Charleston did was to construct a wooden stockade to defend the colony from the surrounding tribes and Spanish outlaws. Since then, one of the friendliest cities in America has constantly contributed some of its best to the unfriendliest of situations.
1. Charleston saw the first defeat of the British Navy in America.
In June 1776 – yes, before July 4th – a squadron of Royal Navy ships sailed into Charleston Harbor and attempted to land on Sullivan’s Island. Fighting from a patchwork of Palmetto logs filled with sand, William Moultrie led 435 South Carolina militiamen and dozens of cannon against nine ships and more than 2,000 Redcoats.
They fought off the British squadron after a full day of fighting and the British wouldn’t return to Charleston until 1780.
2. Andrew Jackson’s anger was born in Charleston.
After the Battle of Stono Ferry, Andrew Jackson was held as a POW by the British. The young Jackson was ordered to polish the boots of a British officer. Jackson, a crotchety old man even in his youth, refused. So the officer cut Jackson’s face and hands with his sword.
Jackson never forgot the event and carried his hatred of the British throughout his career. It came in handy at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, when Jackson and his outnumbered ragtag group of slaves, soldiers, and pirates fought the British in a lopsided victory for 12 straight days.
3. The opening shots of the Civil War were fired there.
With all the controversy surrounding the memories of the Confederacy, it’s a tribute to the people of Charleston that even when their state was in full rebellion against the United States, the opening siege of Fort Sumter managed not to kill anyone.
The Union troops were allowed to leave the city, with only one death. When they fired a 100-gun salute as the Union troops lowered the American flag, a Union artilleryman was killed when his cannon accidentally misfired.
4. Charlestonians developed the first submarine used in combat.
Fortunately, the mystery surrounding the CSS Hunley’s disappearance was solved after the ship was raised in 2000. The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, but as it rammed a spar tipped with explosives at the USS Housatonic, the blast wave caused the disappearance of the Hunley for more than a century.
The answer was that the blast wave killed the crew immediately. Though far enough from the explosion that sank the enemy ship, the blast wave – traveling slower through the water – cause three times the damage to their soft tissue. The crew of the Hunley knew the boat sank twice during testing and knew the dangers of the underwater blast, but went on the mission anyway.
5. Charleston has been training military leaders forever.
Ok, not forever, but The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, has been in operation since 1846 and in that time has created so many notable officers, heroes, football stars, and other alumni (including one Miss USA and an Oscar nominee), listing them all would be time consuming.
Its more notable alums include General William Westmoreland, who commanded all U.S. forces in Vietnam as well as and Charleston’s own former Mayor Joe Riley, who led the city for more than 40 years.
6. Charleston is where legends are born and honored.
All five living former American Presidents – Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – agreed to serve as honorary directors for the National Medal of Honor Museum going up in the Mount Pleasant area of greater Charleston.Patriot’s Point is going to be the home that preserves the stories of America’s bravest (or craziest) fighting men and women.